Grandpa Waverly and I left Saturday morning to pick Judith up from camp. I wasn’t looking forward to that, I’ll tell ya’. It had been a great week. I had lots more room in the back seat without her elbowin’ me all the time. Friday night we had watermelon and I had it all to myself. (I missed not having anyone to spit seeds at, though). I didn’t miss her whinin’ all the time about stuff the way sisters always do. I didn’t miss her snoring in the next room (She sounds like a Boeing 747 winding up for take-off when she snores). I didn’t miss her making me turn off the baseball game to watch “The Adventures of Heidi.” I didn’t miss her makin’ me help her find the stuff she loses. I didn’t miss her hoggin’ the tire swing. I didn’t miss her ridin’ my bike. The only time I missed her was when I had to do her share of the dishes.
So you can see why I wasn’t lookin’ forward to her coming back home from camp. At least we would get to spend a week at Grandpa’s farm before everything was back to normal at home.
Grandpa wanted to spend some time with us so he said he would take me along and pick Judith up from camp. We would spend the week sleepin’ in “the bunkhouse” (That is a shed out back grandpa built for us to sleep in in the summer. It had checked curtains in the window, a bunk bed made from locust trees cut right on the farm and a table with a Kerosene lamp) We would go fishin’ in the pond eat grandma’s old fashioned cookin’ every meal (except Tuesday night when Grandpa always took Grandma to Ellie’s Dinner for the special). Grandpa said we could build a tunnel in the hay mow and ride tractor-tire inner-tubes down the hill and cool off in the swimmin’ hole if we got hot and He said grandma would have plenty of ice-cold lemonade made with real lemons. It was gonna be a great week. If only I didn’t have to put up with Judith. Eight-year-old sisters can really get under your skin after a while. I would just have to make the best of it. Maybe she will marry young or go to stay at a boarding school in a far-away state or live with grandma and grandpa for a few years till I go to college.
I loved riding in Grandpa’s old pick-up. It was a old Ford with a wooden bed. He treated it like a member of the family. He said it had been on the farm since just after he came home from the War. He bought it used from Billy Hatcher’s lot on Mill Street. It was a great truck except for one thing. It was narrow and I had to put up with Judith’s elbow in my side all the way to the farm.
Finally we rounded the bend in the tree-lined gravel road and caught sight of what my Grandpa liked to call “The Old Homestead.” Grandma was waitin’ to tell us how big we were gettin’ and she said “you must be famished” and set us right down to huge, chewy peanut-butter cookies and tall glasses of fresh, cold milk. “Drink all you want;” she said; “there’s more where that came from.” Charlotte gave more milk than Grandma and Grandpa and all the cats could drink, so we got to drink a lot, which was good ’cause at home if I didn’t get up early “you-know-who” would scarf it all down before I was up and I’d just have to do without.
It’s a big farm and I tried to keep clear of Judith all week but we did have a few little differences-of-opinion. She squealed on me for being rough with Callie, the barn cat, and we got in a little scrape at the Ellie’s Diner on Tuesday night when I stole a couple of her fries and she squalled like somebody ripped her arm off. At the swimmin’ hole she got mad cause I dunked her a couple times and she told grandma I held her under till she turned blue but she was just trying to get me in trouble as usual.
Saturday morning Mom and Dad were coming to get us. On Friday Grandma said; “Kids, today we are going on a little treasure hunt. We said “Where!?” and Grandma said “Right here in the house. You wouldn’t believe the treasures that are up in that old attic. We haven’t been up there for years, but I think it is about time to do a little exploring.”
After breakfast we went up the stairs to the second floor and then up the little stairs to the attic. Grandma called it the garret. It had little windows at both ends that let in light and it was full of old chests and trunks and wooden boxes full of old stuff that was all yellow and brown. There was dust on everything.
Grandma showed us lot a’ neat stuff that she had to explain how to use. She showed us pictures of mom when she was little. She looked like Judith but I’m sure she was a lot nicer girl. Grandma got a little teary-eyed when she was lookin’ at the pictures Just before lunch Grandma kinda squealed and I thought she had seen a mouse but she held a old shoulder satchel up over her head and said “I found it!”
The little bag had a brass plate on it with the initials J.F.W. I asked Grandma what the initials stood for and who the bag belonged to and why she was lookin’ for it and she just kinda’ smiled and with a twinkle in her eye she said “That, my children, is a mystery that will be solved later this evening.”
After supper we went out on the poach to cool off and chat. Just as mist was settling on the fields around the house and fireflies came out Grandpa finished a batch of home-made ice cream. We ate it with strawberries from the garden. We squabbled over who was gonna’ sit in the porch swing. Grandpa made me sit on the steps.
When we finished our ice cream Grandpa said he wanted to tell us a little story, “You might say it is a mystery;” Grandpa said. “I’ve been watchin’ you this past week and your a pretty good boy. You work hard and do as your told. You’re respectful to Grandma and me, but you don’t treat your little sister Judith here they way you ought to. You don’t treat her with special kindness like a big brother should. That’s why I asked your Grandma to go up in that attic and find this bag. I haven’t seen it for years. It kinda’ makes my heart hurt to see it, because it is a very special bag.”
“When I was about your age my little sister tagged along after me everywhere I went. She was like a shadow. Her eyes were as blue as a mountain lake and she had golden hair. Now we got along just fine but there were times I wished I could be on my own and not have her along. The fair came to our county the summer I turned ten and I couldn’t wait to go. I begged my Pa and he said I could go Friday night if I got all my chores done and if I took my little sister along. I was sure disappointed with that idea because me and my friends had plans that didn’t include little sister taggin’ along. I said so to my Dad. “Why do I have to have that little brat with me everywhere I go. I’m sick of her always hangin’ around;” I said. My little sister was in the next room and when she heard me say that she burst in to tears.
“My dad said I didn’t have to have her around. He said I could stay home and he would take my little sister to the fair. Well that made me pretty mad sittin’ home and seein’ Daddy and her go off without me. But I thought about it some while they were gone and by the time they got home I asked her to forgive me for treating her the way I did. After that we got along better and I tried to treat her with special kindness because I remember how hurt she was when I said I didn’t want her along. I’m glad I did because that fall my little sister took sick and before Christmas she was in heaven.”
“Son, do you know why your little sister is named Judith?” Grandpa asked me. “Sure, after mom, right?”
“Well, yes, and no,” said Grandpa. “You see this handbag” See those initials on it J.F.W? They stand for Judith Francis Waverly. When my little sister came home from the fair with Daddy that night she had a big smile on her face and her blue eyes sparkled like stars. That’s the picture of her that always sticks in my mind. She had this little bag on her shoulder. Daddy had her initials put on it at the fair. She loved it and carried it with her everywhere she went.
I’ve never forgotten her and never stopped missin’ her either. That’s why, when Grandma and I had our first girl, your mother, we named her Judith, after my sweet little sister, Judith Francis who died years ago when I was a boy. I don’t suppose it will be long till we see each other again in heaven. We’ll have a lot to talk about and I’m lookin’ forward to it.”
You can imagine how I felt about then. Grandpa didn’t have to say anything more. I know Mom and Dad noticed a difference in the way I treated little Judith after that. I don’t think they knew why.
They gave that satchel to Judith. On the way home in the back seat it gouged my ribs a few times but I really didn’t mind. I really didn’t mind at all.